Skedesa’s sword hissed like a raging serpent, and it tore through the air with ferocity. She was going for her enemy with violence and dexterity, and she had made him scared and defending himself.
She guessed insecurity in his eyes, and that lent her even more courage. Her enemy had a dark complexion and coal black eyes. He was armed with a trident and a net. He would be delighted if he could manage to throw the net over her and stab his trident into her body. But Skedesa was lightning fast and flexible like a cat. She did not give him a chance to approach her. She managed to wound him lightly several times on the thighs with her sword and shook his confidence. She bid her time, jumping aside as he launched an attack on her, and thus, remaining just behind him, she aimed and drove her sword into his shoulder. The man yelled with pain, dropped the trident and fell upon his knees.
The spectators went wild and started cheering. They wanted her to finish him. Evidently the wound she had caused was deep, for there was a lot of blood gushing out, and his face was distorted with pain. Skedesa kicked him and he fell prostrate in the dust. He raised his eyes to the rostrum to see if they would spare his life. To the astonishment of the spectators, the governor raised his finger, and Skedesa did not proceed to kill him. That even soothed her. She was reluctant to slay heavily wounded and defenseless people. She was now doing that only to fulfill her ends, however much she resented that.
She went out of the arena and soon emerged in the first rows around the rostrum. Gaius Octavius, the governor of the Macedonian province, was fond of gladiator fights, and because everyone who wanted to measure their forces could participate in them, he even allowed women to try their strength.
He ordered that Skedesa be brought to him. She approached and took off her helmet. Her long, black and slightly wavy hair flowed down her armor like a pleasant whiff of the wind, and that cast an enchanting impact on the people around her.
Skedesa still did not know that most Roman rulers were born with the law of “giving with one hand – taking with both!”
“Well done, Skedesa! You won again today. You deserve a prize.”
He fumbled and took out a purse. He dropped gold coins from inside it into his palm and then handed them to her. She took the coins and nodded in sign of gratitude. However, she felt the resentful stare of a woman who was barely concealing her hatred for her, because of the ruler’s benevolence.
The woman was Gaius’s wife, and she was holding a small boy in her hands. That was the future Octavian Augustus, but at the time no one supposed that it was him to become the first emperor of Rome.
Skedesa was a Thracian woman, but she was not a slave, she was a warrior! Although she was a female, she was much more skilled in fight than most men. And had her people, the Thracians, not been so divided, had they been united, the Roman legions would not have been able to conquer them. In the beginning Skedesa contemplated murdering Gaius Octavius, but then she changed her mind and decided to become close to him, close enough to obtain information. She felt his foible for her, and she was bidding her time. About a month before his armies had attacked their settlement and slain almost everybody. They had taken her beloved man Zipper prisoner, and she overheard that he was going to be trained as a gladiator. She was distraught, for she did not know where he was. Was he alive, or wasn’t he?
When the Romans attacked their settlement, she was at a distance hunting with a group of other hunters. When she got back and saw the ravages of the attack, she was overwhelmed by grief and malice. Afterwards, when she understood that Zipper was captive, she firmly decided to find him and set him free. She was deeply in love with him.
They told her that there were to be held gladiator fights in the Roman fortification, and she decided to enlist and fight. She won the fight, but she did not find her beloved man among the gladiators. She inquired about him, but no one knew anything, or they deliberately withheld what they knew. There were rumors of a group of captured warriors who had been taken to Athens or to Rome.
Now she had won for the third time in a row, and as usual after her victory she vanished into the mountain. For two days Skedesa followed steep and barely noticeable paths until she reached the ancient sanctuary of the Thracian goddess Kibela. Then she climbed on an almost vertical cliff, and finally she sneaked through a narrow hole in the cliff. There she crawled on to enter a spacious cave with a circular aperture on its top. Through the aperture, at noon time, when the sun reached its zenith, its rays fell to shine on the gold statue of the Goddess Mother Kibela, a statue almost the height of a human.
However puzzling that was, when Skedesa went to the sanctuary for the first time, she met an elderly woman there – the woman turned out to be the temple’s priestess. Her name was Pikadora, and she dwelt there, serving the goddess. Every day a trusted worshipper dropped food through the aperture in the cave top. If the priestess wished to go out, which hardly ever happened, he dropped her a ladder. The location of the sanctuary was a secret guarded for years, especially after the increasingly frequent invasions of the Romans started.
But on the day following her last victory, Skedesa was not aware that Gaius Octavius had sent cunning spies to track her. So on the next day Gaius Octavius himself emerged through the aperture of the cave, and presently he climbed down with several warriors.
“Here is more gold for new legions,” he said on seeing the statue of the goddess Kibela.
Then the priestess warned him, “If only you touch that statue, huge misfortunes shall befall you!”
Then the priestess lapsed into a trance-like status and started dancing around him. She lighted some fragrant dry mixtures, and she burned some incense. She chanted some unintelligible songs and uttered unintelligible words.
“She is prophesying on you, master,” Skedesa told Gaius.
Astonished and taken aback, Gaius Octavius stood and stared at her. He decided it would be curious to understand what the elderly priestess would say, for he had heard that Thracian priests were very accurate in their prophesies.
Then Pikadora the priestess said:
“You have a son. He bears your name, Gaius Octavius. He is still a kid, but Kibela said that if you do not desecrate her sanctuary and her statue, he shall become a great king and a ruler of the world. Eternity, however, shall seal and remember him under another name– Augustus. It shall be a name to be given to a whole month of thirty-one days of the year.”
Gaius Octavius hesitated, but this time some force drove him to think over the priestess’s words and believe her. He was really eager to be the father of a great ruler. He longed to become one himself, but ostensibly the gods had decided otherwise.
“So be it,” he said. “I will leave the statue of your goddess, but I want her to come with me.” And he nodded in the direction of Skedesa.
“Me?” Skedesa asked, astonished and a little furious.
“Yes,” Gaius replied. “You will join the guards of my children and my wife.”
“But your wife hates me. She resents me,” Skedesa remarked.
“She will obey and she will understand, after I explain to her that my likes for you are just professional,” Gaius clarified.
Skedesa cast a glance at the priestess, and from her look she realized she would have to accept.
“I agree,” she said.
In fact, that was one of her ends – to get nearer the rulers, in order to have more opportunities to set her beloved man free. Then she remembered the last months with Zipper, the secrets of her grandfather who was her tribe’s priest, and of course, the treachery of the new priest and his son.